A new Pew Research Center poll articulates what many pundits have been saying: despite the daily crises, denunciations from some on the right and left, charges that he has been too soft, too war-like, dithering, jumping into a policy without thinking, President Barack Obama seems positioned well for 2012 at this early stage in the game.
Barack Obama currently fares as well against a generic opponent in the upcoming presidential election as George W. Bush did in April 2003, a time when Bush’s job approval rating was much higher than Obama’s is today. He also tests considerably better than Bill Clinton did in March 1995.
Nearly half (47%) of registered voters say they would like to see Barack Obama reelected, while 37% say they would prefer to see a Republican candidate win the 2012 election, according to the survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press conducted March 8-14 among 1,525 adults. In April 2003, 48% of registered voters said they would like to see Bush reelected in 2004; 34% said they would prefer to see a Democrat win.
At the time, the Iraq war was viewed as moving to a successful conclusion and Bush’s job approval rating among the public stood at 72%. In a survey released earlier this month, 51% of the public approved of the way Obama is handling his job as president.
In part, Obama is benefitting from the fact that the GOP has yet to coalesce behind a candidate. About one-in-five (21%) Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters say they would like to see Mitt Romney win the nomination while about the same percentage (20%) chooses Mike Huckabee; 13% back Sarah Palin, 11% opt for Newt Gingrich and 8% back Ron Paul. At this early stage in the race, 15% of GOP voters have no preference.
Pew also notes that part of the reason GOPers may not be doing that well in the polls is that the Republican race is generating much less interest that four years ago and generating less media coverage (even though many GOPers now go for the talk radio style zinger sound byte which guarantees face and space time).
Through the first 10 weeks of 2007, coverage of the campaign accounted for about 7% of all news coverage on average, according to an analysis of coverage by Pew Research’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. Through the first 10 weeks of this year – a period that has seen a series of major international stories – coverage of the 2012 campaign has accounted for only about 1% of the newshole.
This could be due to all of the big other stories that turned news coverage to focus on the Middle East and Japan, plus the GOP field not offering anyone so far who is an unusual or breakout candidate.
Obama continues to benefit by high marks for likability.
The survey finds that Barack Obama’s personal favorability remains fairly strong: 58% of the public say they have a favorable opinion of him while 39% view him unfavorably. Michelle Obama’s favorable ratings continue to be higher than her husband’s. Currently, 69% say they have a favorable opinion of Michelle Obama, compared with 21% who have an unfavorable opinion of her.
Pew also finds Obama with a slim lead among independent voters:
Among independent voters, 40% say they would like to see Obama reelected, while 34% would prefer to see a Republican win the White House. At this point, roughly a quarter of independents (26%) offer no opinion. In the 2008 election, Obama outpolled McCain among independents, 52% to 44%.
Pew also notes some differences between Obama and Bush:
While Obama is viewed favorably today (58%), Bush’s favorable ratings in April 2003 were much higher (72%). More than six-in-ten (63%) viewed the GOP favorably in April 2003; today 48% have a favorable opinion of the Democratic Party.
Yet Obama and his party hold several advantages. For one thing the Republican Party’s image is fairly negative. Just 42% have a favorable opinion of the GOP while 51% view the party unfavorably. The public currently has a mixed view of the Democratic Party (48% favorable vs. 45% unfavorable).
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.